“All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Whether Leo Tolstoy was correct in that observation of home life, it is perhaps true of political ideologies, depending on your world view. According to a new paper (h/t @DegenRolf) liberals are more similar to each other than conservatives are, even if “conservatives perceive greater ingroup similarity than do liberals”.
This is not the first paper to notice this pattern. In my book Small Men on the Wrong Side of History (I might have mentioned it once or twice), I cited a 2017 study of 80,000 people across 400 political issues which found that people on the Left are more alike than conservatives are, agreeing more across a swathe of political arguments.
My interpretation of this is that progressivism is more like a religion, or more accurately is about religio, the Latin word for a belief that bonds people together as a community. It is more credal because communities of belief need to have doctrinal creeds to keep the group together; this explains why people on the Left are more likely to fall out over issues of ideological purity, as it is with religious communities.
It also explains why the Left is less diverse than the Right, which is by definition an alliance of everyone who’s not on the orthodox Left, and who have been cast out for one reason or another — including such incongruous groups as libertarians, neoconservatives, Christian socialists and “the intellectual dark web”, most of whom are liberals rather than conservatives.
People on the Right tend to be more idiosyncratic in their beliefs, although that same 2017 survey found that within smaller conservative sub-groups, they were more in agreement with each other than Left-wing sub-groups.
As an example, many Christians are very active in Left-wing causes, especially on the issues of poverty, immigration and war; you occasionally still get nuns trying to break into nuclear bases, for instance. They are unquestionably not “Right-wing”, yet at the same time, their views on things such as sex education and abortion evoke more hostility from their own side than any of their beliefs do from the Right.
In his book The Once and Future Liberal, Mark Lilla cited the example of how the organisers of the US Women’s March excluded members of Christian women’s groups who also wanted to protest against Donald Trump, because of their anti-abortion views. For the liberal Lilla, this was a maddening example of burning bridges and handing victory to the opposition, but this also explains the Left’s strength, its determination. The doctrinal purity might alienate a few members, but historically ideological uniformity tends to work.
Today millions of people still recite the Nicene Creed, adopted almost 1,700 years ago, while those groups that went their own way on this issue don’t get talked about much any more. The only problem is that, unlike most religions, the Left’s profession of faith is always evolving, meaning that the Creed must go through a few edits every few years, and God help you if you find yourself using an outdated edition.